Ramadan during coronavirus
Ramadan this year is expected to fall on April 24, according to astronomers’ calculations. Image Credit: Pexels

Dubai: Life during the pandemic may feel surreal at times.

Children are attending classes from home, its now universally acceptable – even encouraged – to work remotely, and forget about visiting your friends or family since social distancing has now become the norm.

To date, streets are empty, shopping centres are closed, and the only public place you can actually visit are supermarkets, pharmacies and hospitals as authorities urge residents to stay at home while they carry out the national disinfection programme to prevent the spread of coronavirus COVID-19.

Our daily routine has changed and inevitably, so will Ramadan.

A time of reflection

Ramadan, the most sacred month of the year for Muslims, is expected to begin on April 24. The observance of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and marks the month when Muslims from around the world are obligated to fast from sunrise to sunset.

The month of Ramadan is a time of reflection and piety, the practise of self-control, and giving back to the community through charity and generous deeds.

1. Pre-Ramadan celebrations

Due to COVID-19, the lead up to Ramadan has already changed. The traditional custom of Emirati children celebrating Hag Al Laila was spent indoors after the Ministry of Health and Prevention urged residents to avoid family gatherings, children’s visits to neighbours, and spending time in the streets.

Hag Al Laila fell on April 7, marking the two-week countdown to Ramadan.

Hag Al Laila, which means ‘For this Night’, is an Emirati tradition held in the middle of Sha’aban, the eighth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, which sees children going from door-to door and collecting sweets from neighbours.

2. Stocking up

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Shoppers at a supermarket, which is one of the only few stores open at Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/ Gulf News

In the run-up to Ramadan, several car trips are usually needed to make sure that the kitchen is filled with special ingredients to make traditional meals, as well as to decorate the home with themed decorations.

The UAE’s national disinfection programme means that movement is restricted between 8pm and 6am, leaving less hours for families to go out and shop. And with a one-member per household policy allowed to visit the supermarket at one given time, this means that you’ll have to be more organised when jotting down the grocery list, as you won’t have anyone nearby to remind you what’s been left out.

3. Iftar gatherings and suhoors

An iftar tent Image Credit: Supplied

During Ramadan, iftar is the meal used to break the fast while suhoor is eaten before sunrise. In other circumstances, ads of iftar tents and special suhoor meals would normally be filling up your inbox as restaurants and hotels entice customers with their mouth-watering menus.

This year however, may be a more sombre affair as the F&B industry remain tight-lipped. The current preventive measures against coronavirus means that restaurants will not accept dine-in customers, until further notice.

4. Social distancing

Ramadan Nights by Dish
Ramadan nights Image Credit: Supplied

The Ministry of Health and Prevention, along with a number of local authorities, have placed an emphasis on maintaining a social distance between family and friends.

The new rules of engagement call for maintaining a gap of one to two metres to prevent possible exposure when an infected person coughs or speaks, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). It was also advised to avoid physical contact when greeting others, such as handshakes, kisses or hugs. Alternatively, you can wave, nod, or place your hand over your heart.

Bearing these social norms in mind, it looks like large family gatherings and meeting up at a friend’s house during Ramadan is unlikely until authorities confirm that public gatherings are safe again.

5. Umrah

A view of Mekkah from above during recent closures due to coronavirus
A view of Mekkah from above during recent closures due to coronavirus Image Credit: Supplied

Emirates and Etihad Airway said it would no longer carry to Saudi Arabia passengers with Umrah pilgrimage visas or tourists until further notice, in compliance with a Saudi government directive to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Saudi Arabia said that it would take four months to a year to contain the coronavirus while announcing that it expects the total number of cases to reach 200,000 if measures to counter COVID-19 are not followed.

So far, security authorities have implemented a curfew in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina to 24 hours until further notice. Authorities have also imposed a 24-hour lockdown in major cities, including Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Dhahran, Tabuk, Al Hofuf, Taif, Al Qatif and Khobar.

6. Taraweeh prayers

Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

During Ramadan, special prayers are conducted in mosques after every Isha prayer, which are known as taraweeh prayers.

The taraweeh prayers involve reading long chapters of the Qur’an every night, with the aim to complete the entire Quran by the end of the last day of Ramadan.

In mid-March, the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority, in cooperation with the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Awqaf, temporarily suspended prayers at mosques and places of worship in the country as a precautionary measure amid the global COVID-19 outbreak.

As of now, mosques, churches and other places of worship are to remain closed until further notice.

7. Tailored abayas and kandoras

Women check out abayas at a shop in Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: GN Archives

Before Ramadan starts, residents usually pay a visit to their favourite tailoring shop and place their orders for custom-made abayas and kandoras. The new clothes are actually not meant for Ramadan, but is a tradition [Sunnah] carried out by Muslim men and women to mark the Eid Al Fitr celebration.

To beat the crowd, people prefer to place their orders as early as possible, but with the recent restrictions that have come into place, many tailoring shops are lagging behind while the ones located in shopping centres have temporarily closed until further notice.